ALL IN THE MIND – the elephant in the workplace  

CIPD research has found that less than one in three organisations train line managers to support staff who have poor mental health.  They have collaborated with MIND to publish a helpful free guide.

A few days ago the CIPD (an HR representative professional body) and the mental health Charity MIND published a guide for managers within the intention of improving support for those who are suffering from stress and mental health issues in the workplace.  It’s called “People Managers’ Guide to Mental Health” and does what it says on the tin.

CIPD research has found that less than one in three organisations train line managers to support staff who have poor mental health.  According to the report, mental ill health now accounts for 22% of long term sickness absences in UK organisations.  Furthermore, a MIND survey of over 44,000 employees recently found that only 42% of employees felt their manager would be able to spot the signs they were struggling with poor mental health.

Free guide

The guide is free and can be accessed at www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/culture/well-being/mental-health-support-report.

The guidance covers the whole cycle of work life from recruitment through to managing people with a disability or ill health and to support them when they return to work after absence.  It is aimed both at large organisations and owner manager businesses. It describes mental health as still being the “elephant in the room” in most workplaces, with employees reluctant to speak up for fear of being discriminated against or victimised.

This is not just about basic humanity though; there is a business case too and it provides a reminder that mental health is protected in law by the Equality Act 2010 as mental health disorders can qualify as a disability.   The problem for employers can be distinguishing between genuine cases of ill health and others who claim to be suffering from stress at work, which often manifests itself after a dispute in the workplace or disciplinary proceedings are started.  Those employers may well be very cynical about the nature of that reactive illness, but care needs to be taken.

£33 billion and £42 billion per year cost to employers

A Government sponsored review in 2017 called “Striving at Work: The Stevenson-Farmer Review of Mental Health and Employers” showed that mental health illness is costing employers between £33 billion and £42 billion per year.  That is made up as to £8 billion in respect of absenteeism, staff turnover £8 billion and presenteeism, which costs between £17 to £26 billion.

Presenteeism is where an employee will be turning up for work  unwell and are not productive.  It can be a harder problem to address than absenteeism.  People can take longer to do tasks, have difficulty making decisions, can be less patient with customers or clients, can put off challenging work and can find it difficult to concentrate, amongst other “symptoms”.

The guide puts forward strategies for preventing poor mental health at work, which includes having a good induction programme for new employees, managing people in positive and supportive ways and the CIPD has developed a series of tools to allow managers to assess whether they are supporting their employees mental health.  For instance, managers should make sure they create realistic deadlines; clearly communicate job objectives; deal with problems as soon as they arise, and give employees the right level of job responsibility.  Regularly asking employees “how are you?” is also to be recommended.

It is a must read guide for every manager and small business because, like most things in life, let alone employment law, prevention is better than cure. Poor mental health at work not only leads to employees taking time off sick, high staff turnover and disruption to the smooth running of a business, but can also lead to disputes and litigation if not handled properly.